KWAME HOLMAN: Members of Congress filled committee rooms on both sides of the capitol this morning to raise questions about the need to improve the nation's intelligence-gathering system. Appearing before the House government reform committee, 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman urged Congress to adopt all of the recommendations.
JOHN LEHMAN: I would strongly recommend that these be viewed as a whole, and that the powers needed to carry out these recommendations be enacted as a whole package. I'm sure that this will result in a far more effective means of providing intelligence to this nation going forward, if they are implemented.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, President Bush endorsed two key recommendations, creating the post of national intelligence director and establishing a new counterterrorism center. But over in the Senate Governmental Affairs committee this morning, members heard mostly skepticism from their panel of witnesses. John Brennan is director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was established shortly after 9/11 to coordinate intelligence from various agencies. His organization would become part of the larger national counterterrorism center. He warned against making other reforms too quickly.
JOHN BRENNAN: A lot has happened since 9/11. What I wouldn't want to have happen is for there to be a tragedy because we moved precipitously. I have tremendous respect for what the commission has done, the scholarship shown in the report. But I strongly disagree with Governor Kean's comment on Friday that the system today does not work. The system today works better than it ever has before. The status quo on 9/11 was certainly insufficient. Could it work better? You betcha. We can improve ourselves, and we need to.
And that's why continuing to change and to go through transformation of government is important. But moving precipitously does not take into account the tremendous interconnectedness that is the result of legacy practices and procedures and statutes of the past 50 years. So we have to lose thoughtfully. What I don't want to do is to move and to have a dropped piece of information because, in fact, we went through rapid change very quickly. And this does not, quite honestly-- the 9/11 Commission report -- provide the detailed type of engineering blueprint that we need in order to undergo that transformation.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Pistole is assistant director for counterterrorism at the FBI. He too argued there still were many questions to be answered before creating a new national counterterrorism center, or NCTC.
JOHN PISTOLE: One of the areas is in defining the lanes that each agency has responsibility for in terms of this new directorate and this NCTC. How does that all flesh out when it comes down to operations, when the rubber meets the road? How does that actually... how do we take that overseas intel and transform it into something here today that we can act on?
KWAME HOLMAN: John Brennan, responding to a question from Illinois' Dick Durbin, said upgrading computer systems used by intelligence agencies should be a top priority, something not fully addressed in the 9/11 Commission's final report.
JOHN BRENNAN: There needs to be a national architecture, from a business process standpoint, as far as the roles and responsibilities of those different entities, but in addition, a information technology architecture.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: Can you for a moment understand my frustration? It's three years after 9/11. This is not a new idea or concept, that we would create this architecture. And here we are, three years later, almost three years later, saying, "Boy, we're going to have to do this soon, aren't we?" What has stopped us? What has stopped us? What has stopped executive branch? Is it Congress? Have we held the executive branch back?
JOHN BRENNAN: The architecture is so complicated. You're talking about multi-security level systems, top secret, secret, classified, unclassified, you're talking about something that touches all different government agencies and departments; you're talking about information from overseas and making sure that it can cascade throughout the government and down into the local, state and local level in law enforcement.
And when I look at the 9/11 Commission report, the recommendation in information sharing is that information procedures should provide incentives for sharing to restore a better balance between security and shared knowledge. It doesn't address any of the issues regarding the technology challenges and the tremendous resources required, the policies and protocols and procedures that have to be put in place.
KWAME HOLMAN: Philip Mudd is the CIA's top counterterrorism expert. And he spoke firmly against adding another level of authority.
PHILIP MUDD: I do not believe that national intelligence director structure is workable. Number two...
SPOKESMAN: You don't believe what is reworkable?
PHILIP MUDD: That is the structure that is laid out in the diagram...
SPOKESMAN: And what specifically is not workable?
PHILIP MUDD: It's too diffuse an effort. Secondly, if there is a vision that every element of everything we do should be consolidated into one center-- and I'm not sure this actually advocates that-- I would not support that. Finally, thirdly and very specific, there is a paramilitary recommendation in here that I do not believe we should pursue.
SPOKESMAN: Which is to put all the paramilitary activity into the Department of Defense?
PHILIP MUDD: That is correct.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members of Congress will sift through recommendations from dozens of witnesses during this august recess, but they won't be able to act on them until the full Congress reconvenes in September.